Thursday, 14 June 2012

Rebound and revolution

We are constantly reminded how bad we are, should decide to drive rather than use public transport or should we errantly leave on a light! We all try, which gives us a warm glow, but sometimes fail and with that comes guilt, but should we really feel guilty?

In essence saving energy is a good thing and a behaviour to be encouraged, it is the right thing to do. But behind this lie a couple of inconvenient truths that need to be explored, in order to have a better understanding of what really needs to be done.

Firstly take rebound, the effect whereby you save energy and raw materials by turning down your heating and filling your recycling box! You have a sense of self worth and you have saved money on your bills as a result, so you decide to reward yourself with a weekend away, in Rome! You might wish to consider how many can you would need to recycle in order to offset that flight?

One passenger Rome return is about 250Kg CO2, that's the equivalent of turning all your lights off as you leave a room for 2 years!!

The more revolutionary view is that none of this really matters now, because we have passed the point where end of pipe consumer behaviours will make a dent in the numbers. In order to avoid serious (more than 2 degree) temperature rises, we now need to act at the point of production, only industrial scale sequestration will reign in the impacts of our energy production and consumption.

In fact, growing consumption of power and fuel in developing nations cannot be offset by changing consumer habits in the developed nations, a kind of global rebound. The only way to do this would be to capture and bury as much CO2 as is necessary to remain below the 2 degree threshold. That may still, at present be technically and economically feasible, however it would need to be manged and regulated on a global scale.

I don;t think it will be possible to reduce consumption sufficiently at the same time as maximising all available forms of renewable energy, to the point where we had a balance of energy production that would meet environmental thresholds. Some stark choices loom!

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